Back to School Supplies

Schools Need to Let Us Recycle School Supplies

school supplies

Every year it happens. The school supply list comes in. I take one look, and I groan. Is it any wonder parents end up spending some $72.5 billion (yes, BILLION) on back to school shopping every year? Recycling your school supplies is darn near impossible.

It's not that we don't have anything worth recycling. In the last few days of school, my 9-year-old daughter came home every day with a backpack full of the detritus that had accumulated in her desk and locker over the year.

Erasers halves. Stubby pencils. Plastic folders in various colors. 

Most, if not all, are used, but there's still life in them.

And yet, a quick survey of parents from various school districts uncovered the same problem: school supply lists often make demands that force parents to buy new school supplies

Some teachers want everything in sealed packages. Others call for certain brands over others. Many specify NEWLY sharpened pencils or specific sized erasers, packages of an exact number of glue sticks or wipes.

More From The Stir: 8 Reasons Moms Hate Sending Their Kids Back to School

And don't get me started on the teachers who require specific colored folders. While I understand that they probably have a plan to keep things uniform in the classroom (IE: everyone uses the blue folder for take-home work and the red folder for math), would it really hurt teachers in the same district to huddle up and agree on using the same colors year after year so we can reuse them? I have plastic folders (which are both more expensive and harder to come by) coming out my ears in every color of the rainbow because each year the supply list calls for a different hue!

Now, don't get me wrong. I understand that it's my job as a parent to outfit my daughter for the school year, and I'll gladly do it. I know too that all too often teachers are reaching into their own pockets because districts don't stock their classrooms with all they need, and not every parent can do their share (and yes, there are those who can but just don't bother).

I don't expect the teacher to parent my kid. But I would appreciate a little leeway on the school supply list, and I know I'm not alone. 

Parents in America are as cash-strapped as ever. In 2013, a Gallup poll showed some 31 percent of single parent households struggle just to buy food (the figure is at around 19 percent for two-parent households, still a pretty significant portion of the the population). Some 2.3 million kids in America are living with unemployed parents who haven't had a job for 26 weeks or longer, putting them beyond the cut-off for benefits.

Frugality is a necessity for American parents. And doing what we can to stretch a dollar doesn't mean we're trying to short our kids.

If anything, the money I stand to save if I can recycle the glut of school supplies building up in her bedroom could be put into buying her nicer sneakers for gym class or stocking up on better quality lunchtime eats.

But first I need to convince the school to accept those stubby pencils ...

Do you recycle school supplies? How much do you end up spending on your back to school shopping?


Image via © Jamie Grill/Tetra Images/Corbis

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nonmember avatar Karl

I have never had an issue sending in used items , we buy some new and some used . I swear just send them in no one will say anything

nonmember avatar laura

i have my daughter keep a box of slightly used supplies from previous years and she will use what is in good condition. Obviously, if it is falling apart it goes out, but if it was a folder or a pack of pens that was barely used, it goes for the next year. My mom did the same thing with my brother and I when we were kids. No harm in reusing

stace... stacey541

My only question is what happens to the scissors? They don't get sent home at the end of the year, and we buy a new set each year....that's alot of scissors.

nonmember avatar Kay

Yes, the scissors!! I question the same thing. In our district, the really young kids (preschool - 2nd) have communal supplies but nothing comes home at year end. What are they doing with the all these scissors! They also need things like 3 boxes of crayons and 10 glue sticks or dry erase markers. I'm wondering if some stuff gets redistributed to other classrooms or class like art, library, etc. Because nobody nerds 250 dry erase markers!!

the4m... the4mutts

You do realize that unless your child is in private school, that you do not HAVE to adhere to brand names, new/used "rules" and other nonsense, right?

Colored folders maybe, but the rest? That's just a suggestion. Schools can not tell you what brands to buy for your kids, or what sizes of erasers they have to have.

That would be like telling parents WalMart brand clothes aren't allowed, and they can only wear brand new clothes from the mall.

If it is for YOUR child, and not the classroom as a whole, simply make sure that they have paper, writing/erasing utensils, and dollar store craft items.

nonmember avatar Jenn

I would absolutely send my children with used supplies! I will NOT teach them wastefulness and gluttony. How else are we supposed to teach to most basic lesson of recycling?

nonmember avatar Whitney

As a teacher I can tell you that some brands are better than others. You can send RoseArt glue sticks but they will dry out sooner and they aren't as sticky so we are left with half-quality projects and non-usable glue in March (with 3 months to go!). In some cases, the Elmer's really is worth the money.

I do agree with many of your points, teachers should not be picky about the color hue of the folder, the size of the eraser, brand of kleenex, etc.

Truthfully, many of the supplies are redistributed. As for the scissors, I don't know what the deal is they really do magically disappear as the year wears on?!

ShellLea ShellLea

The biggest complaint I have is putting supplies on the list that the kids don't use. I spent $60 on binders one year. Two of them were used. Two. 

nonmember avatar Anon

I get so tired of these articles.

I am a teacher. I would never dream of telling parents the supplies they send aren't good enough. In fact I purchase with my OWN money extra supplies because what's requested does not get us through the year.

In addition teachers may request a certain brand may give you more bang for your buck. For example, Ticonderoga pencils last much much longer than any other brand. They need less sharpening, the lead doesn't just fall out of the pencils, and they don't break when they're sharpened.

I understand buying school supplies is expensive. However, especially, if you're sending your child to public school, it's a minimal cost for your child's education. It's completely free in my district to attend school, no enrollment or extra fees.

Zenezzy Zenezzy

 I also wonder what happens to scissors.  I buy 15 to 20 each August for my classroom.

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